Theology of Preaching (3)

This is the final abstract for a short “Theology of Preaching” paper.

So that God’s Story Becomes Our Story

The role of preaching is to make the story of God our story. In preaching we are regularly hearing the story of God as told through the Bible, and as we go through the communal practice of hearing that story, we are drawn to find ourselves in God’s story, rather than try to fit God into our own story. As Thomas Long puts it,

“We do not go to Scripture to gain more information about life as we know it, but rather to have our fundamental understandings of life altered. The task of preaching is not to set out some reality in life and then go to the Bible to find extra wisdom. It is instead to tell the story of the Bible so clearly it calls into question and ultimately redefines what we think we know of reality and what we call wisdom in the first place.”[1]

The regular practice of preaching imbibes the community in a story alternate to the story that surrounds them in the world, proclaiming that this is the true story, the true narrative, against all other narratives, and calling the community to adopt that story, and the life that goes with it, as their own.

Preaching regularly tells the community of God’s people the story of God, so that they can become re-storied people. This means that preaching needs to tell the whole story of God so that the community can enter into the fullness of God’s reality. Preaching, then, should seek to cover the whole canon of Scripture over time, recognizing that even obscure, confusing, or uncomfortable passages are part of God’s story and need to be told. It also means allowing the particularities of any given passage to speak, not trying to fit every passage into a simple story, but allowing all the nuances and depth of Scripture to give richness and complexity to God’s story. The preacher must not simplify or shorten the story, but allow the people of God to be invited into all the complex breath and depth of the story.

As the word of God, Scripture is authoritative. This means preaching testifies to the one true story and proclaims that it is only this story that can make true claims upon us. Preaching testifies to the particular claims the text is making upon the people of God gathered to hear the word, and because this story has authority, the only right response is to live out the claim, allowing the story of God to change our worldview, dispositions, and practices[2].

Preaching ultimately witnesses to God and all that God has done, because it is God’s story. Preaching can become misguided if it points to the text itself, an idea beyond the text, the context behind the text, or to the one who preaches the text. While these are all important, it is not the text, its context, nor its implications that we are ultimately witnessing to, but to God, who speaks the text. Done right, preaching that witnesses to God and the fullness of God’s story leads the people of God to worship, for it reveals God to them, and worship is the correct response.

As a call into God’s story, preaching is also both pastoral and prophetic. God’s story is both an invitation and a challenge to hearers, in that it invites the community into a better story than their own, but it also challenges the community to give up any alternative stories they hold. Preaching then must pastorally testify to the faithfulness, love, justice, healing, and redemption found in God’s story, but must also prophetically call people out of other stories that falsely lay claim on us, calling us to gods, idols, and practices not of God.

Preaching is witnessing to the word of God for a particular group of the people of God so that God’s story becomes their story. This understanding of preaching takes seriously the role of the preacher as witness, testifying to the word of God found in Scripture as illuminated by the Holy Spirit. It also takes seriously the particular context of the people, recognizing that God speaks in context to a particular context. Finally, this understanding sees the role of preaching as calling the people of God into the authoritative story of God in all its richness and complexity.

[1] Long, 36.

[2] The triad of worldview, dispositions, and practices is one frequently used by Professor Joel B. Green.


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